News / Calgary

Alberta government tables legislation to strengthen GSA policies in schools

Bill 24 would make it illegal to out kids in GSAs

Lindsay Peace (left) and her transgender son Ace, say strengthening this legislation would make Alberta schools safer for LGBTQ+ students and allies.

Jennifer Friesen / Calgary Freelance

Lindsay Peace (left) and her transgender son Ace, say strengthening this legislation would make Alberta schools safer for LGBTQ+ students and allies.

Gay-straight-alliances (GSAs) will unequivocally be legally accepted at all of Alberta’s publically funded schools if the proposed Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances passes.

The Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances, otherwise known as Bill 24, was introduced by education minister David Eggen in the legislature on Thursday because they saw gaps in previous legislation.

Eggen said the act would support students who want to create or join a GSA or QSA (queer), by ensuring that all of Alberta’s public schools have “clear policies” allowing them.

It would also make it illegal for a school to out LGBTQ+ kids and allies in GSAs to their parents.

During oral question period in the legislature on Thursday, Eggen said a GSA is by nature a place for vulnerable students to feel safe.

“Talk about outing students is simply compromising that safe space,” he said.

Michael Connolly, MLA for Calgary Hawkweed, questioned Eggen about what he’d heard from LGBTQ+ students or his youth council when consulting with them about GSAs.

“It would seem far more important to listen to those students than a career politician who has a history of repeatedly voting against their rights,” he said.

Eggen responded by sharing the story of an LGBTQ+ student he’d spoken with while visiting with GSAs across the province.

“I remember a student in Red Deer who said the GSA literally saved his life,” he said, adding that it’s important to recognize the value of peer support groups—specifically GSAs.

Proposed amendments to the School Act would include requiring publicly funded schools to create “welcoming, caring and respectful policies and make them publicly available.”

It would also strengthen the minister’s ability to ensure schools are complying with the law, protect the privacy of students in GSAs and GSAs, clarify rules around parental notification, protect the establishment of GSAs from political interference and ensure principals help students create a GSA or QSA in a timely manner.

Grade 12 student Ave Peace who is transgender, said to him, the existence of a GSA at school means that he is safe.

“I'm just a kid-- a queer kid. I'm proud I have a voice and that my government is listening to me," he said. "Some kids don't feel safe to come out...for these kids sometimes GSAs are the only safe place they have."

Ace said after joining his GSA in high school he knew his diversity was accepted and even celebrated.

His mother, Lindsay Peace, said she believes GSAs are incredibly important to the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students and said they can often help kids come out to their families on their own.

“Some people think GSAs mean it will be a secret between the student and the school forever, but I've heard dozens of accounts from families where teachers helped students disclose to their families," she said.

Darren Lund, a professor at the University of Calgary and a former high school teacher said research confirms many beneficial effects of having a GSA in school.

“Not just for marginalized students, but for everyone in those schools. When students feel safe, they can achieve their fullest potential both academically and personally,” he said.

There were no objections to the first reading of Bill 24 in the legislature on Thursday.

More on Metronews.ca